Larry Kudlow will be the next director of the National Economic Council, succeeding Gary Cohn as President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, the White House confirmed Wednesday.
“Larry Kudlow was offered, and accepted, the position of assistant to the president for economic policy and director of the National Economic Council,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. She added that the White House was working “to have an orderly transition” and would announce timing soon.
Trump offered the job to Kudlow, a CNBC personality who has been a regular outside adviser to the president, over the phone Tuesday night while Kudlow was at dinner at Cipriani restaurant in Manhattan, a person close to the matter said earlier Wednesday. Kudlow accepted.
During the call, Trump said he was seeing Kudlow’s photo on television and told him: “You’re looking handsome, Larry.”
“The president thinks very highly of Larry Kudlow,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters aboard Air Force One as Trump flew to Missouri from California on Wednesday. “They had a great conversation on the phone yesterday.” He added that “many people” wanted the NEC job.
Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive who was instrumental in shepherding Trump’s tax cuts last December, resigned on March 6 amid a pitched internal battle over Trump’s decision to impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
Kudlow will have the difficult task of advising a president who is increasingly inclined to keep his own counsel – and who wants to pursue aggressive trade policies, including tariffs, against both adversaries and allies.
Kudlow, a committed free trader and former Democrat who served in the Reagan administration, is expected to start in the next few days. He will immediately find himself in conflict with Trump advisers who have strong protectionist tendencies, including trade adviser Peter Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Kudlow would likely have to push to protect the North American Free Trade Agreement in the White House. In a recent podcast interview, Kudlow said withdrawing from the agreement would be a “calamitously bad decision.”
The administration is also working now on tough trade sanctions against China over allegations of technology and intellectual property theft.
Kudlow’s television presence is part of the reason Trump wanted him for the job, according to a senior White House official. Trump regularly complains that he does not have enough talented people making the case for his policies on television.
Kudlow briefly fell out of favor after sharply criticizing Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. But as Trump dismissed other candidates, including Cohn’s deputy Shahira Knight, Kudlow’s stock rose again and the pair began speaking over the weekend.
Kudlow said on CNBC on Wednesday afternoon that the president first called Sunday after Kudlow finished a round of tennis in Connecticut.
“I’d thought he was going to call me to bawl me out because I had a problem with some across-the-board tariffs,” Kudlow told CNBC. “But he didn’t. He called and started explaining his position to me.”
Kudlow added that he had a series of conversations with Trump leading up to the job offer Tuesday night. “Just to talk to him for 30, 40 minutes at a clip, three, four days in a row is a wonderful thing. I just want to say that. It’s a wonderful thing. And he and I have known each other many years.”
After the formal job offer Tuesday, Kudlow continued to speak with Trump about upcoming agenda items while riding in an Uber.
It will be the latest high-profile job for Kudlow, who served as an economist at the New York Federal Reserve and at the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan before a career on Wall Street including serving as chief economist at Bear Stearns.
Kudlow has been public about his recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction and has been sober for many years.
He has strong relationships with Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“He is such a gentleman and so conciliatory and he really doesn’t have a big ego like you might expect for someone who has done what he’s done,” said Doug Kass, a Florida hedge-fund manager and ardent Democrat who has been friends with Kudlow for years. “He will be perfect working for someone like Trump who does have a large ego.”
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